A.D. 56 or 57 - about A.D.
CORNELIVS TACITVS was a Roman
historian who lived during the First Century and early Second Century A.
D. His most famous works include The Histories and The Annals of Imperial
Rome. He also wrote The Agricola, much of which is now lost.
Born into a wealthy family
living in Gaul or Northern Italy, Tacitus received the best education available
to a Roman from a good family. Public speaking skills, oratory and debate,
were considered the most important areas of study for a young man destined
for a career in imperial service or senatorial office. Tacitus was a senator
during the reign of Domitian and was later to fill the post of consul, the
highest office open to a Roman who was not emperor. After his consulship,
he was given the governorship of the large province of Anatolia (much of
Tacitus hated great concentration
of power in the hands of the early emperors. Though he hated imperial power
and in his writings tries to paint every emperor as a corrupt despot, he
hated civil war and anarchy even more. He had a particularly heavy bias against
the emperor Tiberius, whom he portrayed as a sinister and cruel emperor,
purging his opponents from the Senate by having them tried for treason and
executed. He showed scorn for Claudius and Nero, and even his writings about
Augustus contained some belittling innuendoes and snide remarks. His writing
is full of tales of corruption, government scandal, and innocent people being
destroyed or having their good names ruined because of the emperor’s lust
for power. It was Tacitus’ belief that the emperor had so much power in his
hands that no man could occupy the throne without being corrupted by that
Cato the Elder
234 - 149 B. C.
Marcus Porcius Cato was a wealthy Roman landowner
who strongly believed in the traditional Roman Republican values and stood
as a symbol for those ideals. He believed that the rural, farming life was
the best and most virtuous life for a Roman citizen. He believed that the
Greek culture and ways that were brought back to Rome by her conquering armies
actually did more to weaken the Roman people than to strengthen the state.
He also saw Carthage as a major menace to Rome and, when he was a Senator,
ended every speech he made with the words "Carthage must be destroyed", regardless
of what the rest of the speech was about. He even brought a huge bunch of
grapes, grown in Carthagenian soil, to a meeting of the Senate in order
to impress upon the rest of the senators that Carthage's great agricultural
capacity posed a dangerous threat to Roman leadership in the Mediterranean.
It was partly due to Cato's constant inveighing against Carthage that Rome
imposed an impossible ultimatum upon the city. This led to the Third Punic
War in which Carthage was burned, her inhabitants slaughtered, and even the
stones from which the city was built were scattered. The Romans even symbolically
sowed the earth with salt around the site of the destroyed city in effect
saying that Carthage would never rise from the ashes. One hundred years
later, Carthage was an important Roman town in North Africa. Cato served
as quaestor, aedile, praetor, consul, and censor in the Roman government.
He also served as a military general, winning major victories in Spain.
He used his powers as censor to get rid of many senators whom he felt were
a corrupting influence on Roman society. Cato the Elder wrote the first
history of Rome that was not an epic poem. Parts of this work, the Origines,
still survive but most of it is lost. He also wrote a treatise on agriculture
that still survives.
A. D. c150 - 235
Dio Cassius was born in Bithynia of an old and
important family. His Roman History is especially valuable to modern historians
because Dio Cassius spent most of his life in public service, holding many
high government offices during the reigns of Commodus, Pertinax, Septimius
Severus, and Severus Alexander. He witnessed the decay of society under
Elagabalus and Caracalla’s reign of terror. His insights into the workings
of the Roman imperial government provide details that would not be considered
important by a military man or writer of epic poetry. He was a senator from
the early years of the Third Century, Consul under Elagabalus and Severus
Alexander, and Governor of Pannonia under Severus Alexander. Dio Cassius
wrote his history in eighty books, but only eighteen of these survive today.
These eighteen cover the period from 68 B. C. to A. D. 46. Books 50 through
56, covering the death of the Republic and the reign of Augustus are available
in a Penguin Classics edition translated into English.
59 B. C. to A. D. 17
Titus Livy, the famous Augustan historian was
born in the Northern Italian city of Padua His History of Rome was and still
is one of the most popular pieces of classical literature. Much of what Livy
included in his history was legend and epic drama, but this style was considered
good history in Roman times. Though his history consisted of one hundred
forty-two books, only thirty-five remain. Byzantine writers later paraphrased
much of his work that is now lost. The first five books of Livy's History
of Rome From its Foundations are available in an English translation from
Penguin Classics. Livy wrote during the Age of Augustus, a time during which
Rome was powerful, prosperous, and still expanding. Livy crafted a history
that he thought heroic enough for the greatest empire on Earth at the time.
He borrowed freely from Virgil’s Aeneid. Though Livy is not considered a
serious scholar today and his history is not taken to be faultlessly accurate,
reading Livy can tell us much about who the Romans were and what they thought
of themselves and the rest of the world. He provides a window on the Roman
soul and character of the First Century A. D.
c. A.D. 370 - 405
The Roman poet Claudian wrote during one of the most exciting yet little
known periods of Roman history. Theodosius the First was the last emperor
to rule both Eastern and Western halves of the empire. His sons Arcadius
and Honorius were weak puppets in the hands of strong generals and government
ministers. Theodosius fought a desperate battle against the forces of paganism
at the River Frigidus in which both Alaric the Visigoth and the master general
Flavius Stilicho led imperial troops to victory.. Most of what we know about
Stilicho and the barbarian invaders of the time comes from the pen of Claudian.
Claudian did not live to see Alaric invade and sack the city of Rome in A.
D. 410. Claudian was born about the year 370. He may rightfully be called
the last of the classical Roman poets. He wrote panegyrics, or writings filled
with praise, about Flavius Stilicho and the emperor Honorius. Claudian also
wrote concerning Rufinus and Eutropius, two Eastern Roman government ministers
whom he absolutely detested. While Claudian had nothing but good to say
concerning Stilicho and much praise for Honorius, he tried to paint the
most negative picture of Rufinus and Eutropius. Even though Claudian was
extremely biased, most of our history of the late Fourth and early Fifth
Century Roman Empire comes from his writings. Other sources who wrote about
the period either left few details or wrote much later.